Zen Koans (ˈkōän/)

One of the ways that this blog about leadership is different from most others that you might be following, is that every now and then I am trying to sprinkle a little bit of Zen wisdom into my posts. Rather than trying to preach anything, I’ll introduce an old tool that Zen practitioner of the Rinzai lineage have found useful on their journey to enlightenment. Not that we are trying to get to enlightenment, but if Zen monks find grounding and insight in koans, why shouldn’t we use them on our path of becoming better leaders?
As I mentioned, in the Rinzai school of Zen, it was found that the process of meditation can be greatly enhanced through the use of this device called a koan.
ko·an /ˈkōän/
“a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.”
Let me give you an example of a koan to confuse you a bit more:
What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
This is probably the most famous koan and you might have heard it mentioned somewhere before. How I first approached solving this koan is from a rational perspective. Well, I can slap my hand on my legs. Or maybe by quickly closing my hand it makes a sound too. You might have other ideas. Well: “wrong”. None of these are the solution to the koan. Sorry.
What you learn when you start working with koans is that you don’t need to approach them with your rational mind. A friend of mine likes to say that it’s like art: You don’t approach looking at art with your rational mind; you’d miss out. So, it’s really only when you strip away your stories, your believes. Everything. Only then will the koan open up to you and reveal it’s answer.
This openness, this state of letting all your stories go is where I will try to hook into leadership. What if you were given the gift of letting go of your stories before you reacted in a tough leadership situation? Sit (meditate) with that for a bit …

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